Interview Conducted by Jeff Possiel
Photo Credits: Jeff Possiel
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom: Denver, Colorado 3-23-12
On Friday night at the historical five-points in downtown Denver, I caught up with Tommy Benedetti, Drummer and one of the founding members of John Brown’s Body, for an in-depth interview covering the bands current tour, news on their upcoming album, and an all encompassing look at how they remain one of the top live acts, representing “Future Roots” for almost two decades. These are living legends! Check it out!
How was Breckenridge last night (Thursday, 3-22-2012)?
Breckinridge was good it always gets really crazy down there at three20south (venue). It’s a tight room, a tiny underground kind of place and it gets packed in there, it gets crazy. A smaller stage but we actually love playing shows like that. I love the energy of a 300 cap room when it gets really full, it’s nice. We’ve been going there for years; it’s a cool spot Breck’s awesome!
I’ll have to check that out, awesome! So tonight, Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom and you guys move on to Utah over the next couple days, how did this 6 show Colorado / Utah mini-tour come about, are there future dates to be listed or are you headed back East?
Right, so it’s 4 in Colorado and 2 in Utah, Sunday we’re playing a big outdoor show at Park City, Sunday it should be awesome. We’re kind of in the middle of recording a new record right now and that’s where a lot of the focus and energy is being put towards. So, we’re not going to do extendo-world tour until we really get the record out and can tour behind it proper. We’ve been touring behind “Amplify” for almost 3 years so it’s imperative that we get the record out. Once that comes, we’ll do more touring but right now we’re doing short little blasts, we fly out and fly back.
We’ll do that in different parts of the country, in May we’re headed down to the Southeast toward Ashville, NC which is a great place. Then we’re doing a bunch of shows in the Mid-Atlantic area, Philly, Baltimore area, it’s good. These are places we’ve been going to for many years so we have a lot of friends and people down there so it’s great. "At this point with this lineup, its easy. Everybody is fully dialed in and the chemistry has never been better."We’re trying to balance keeping the band out there and working but also really focusing, we know the new record is really important to get out before we can really put it back into full gear.
So, on this short tour how are you guys moving about right now, a bus or a couple vans? With the 8 band members, sound engineer and all the equipment, I feel like things could get a little tricky, have you guys ever left anyone behind?!
We’re traveling by a 15 passenger van right now because we flew out to Denver. I don’t think we’ve ever left anybody behind but we’ve all gotten held up in various positions in airports or all sorts of crazy situations. We haven’t had to pick up anybody to fill in but we’ve had to play shows without one of the horn players, sometimes that happens but we run a tight ship (laughing)! There’s always next tour for that!
In a follow up question about the sound engineer Jocko, Tommy goes on to say…
We have a new engineer, Kenny with us right now. Jocko decided to hop off the road for a bit because he has a studio in Syracuse and he’s up there hanging out and doing work. We got a new guy Kenny Christianson. He’s done monitors for us a bunch of times back in NY he’s been listening to us for years, he grew up with the band and he does an awesome job. This is probably only his 5th or 6th show with us but he’s watched so many shows with Jocko behind the board, he knows what he’s doing. It’s fresh and it’s cool and totally still a fill on dub show, Kenny’s great, he’s got the knowledge
We’re lucky when we find ourselves in the position to lose someone who’s important and you go through this situation thinking, “wow, are we fucked?” I mean we would never have gone out without a front house guy, we won’t do that. And Jocko worked for us for about 7 years, he’ll always be family, I’m sure we’ll work together again but Kenny stepped in and he’s doing a really awesome job.
With regards to the core members and the evolution of JBB over the past 15+ years, how has the creative process changed over time as you guys have grown as individual musicians, together as a group and developed your sound? What is the creative process, say forming a song?
The process can be difficult at times, constructing tunes with an eight piece band because there’s a lot that goes into it. Elliot (Martin, Lead Vocals) is responsible for the lions share of the songwriting and all of the lyrics. He’ll come to us with a pretty specific idea and most of the times it’s pretty much a demo with a vibe and the tune almost in finished form. We’ll bring it to a rehearsal and add our little parts, put it together and make it sound like JBB. Eventually we’ll take it to the stage, we’re playing a bunch of new tunes tonight off the new record! The creative process though, it’s a process for sure and everyone lives in different areas, a few of us are in Boston and a couple guys are in NY, it takes a decent effort to get everything coordinated but it’s worth it.
We just try to take our music and just push it. The first three JBB records were very roots approached, and when Elliot took over the whole thing full time (Prior to 2006, Elliot shared Vocals with Kevin Kinsella), the band’s sound shifted pretty significantly around then.
Elliot is really meticulous, he has division! He knows what he likes and what he wants so it’s up to us to interpret that and make it sound and feel organic, like JBB. At this point with this lineup, its easy. Everybody is fully dialed in and the chemistry has never been better. Honestly, as someone that’s been there since day one, every night is a blast.
Wow, Tommy thanks for that insight, really gives us fans a true sense of all members dedication and passion for the process.
While listening to John Brown’s Body early, preparing for this and amping myself up for the show, I took a look at the last 200 purchased songs in my iTunes, exactly half (100) of them are under 4 minutes in length. Meanwhile, half of the tracks (6) on the most recent JBB album, “Amplify” are over 5 minutes, with none under 4…
Is this is a conscious decision or do you think this is a reflection and result of the many layers and depth JBB offers?
An intrigued look and laugh from Tommy and he states, “I’ve never thought about that before, It’s not a conscious thing but it could have something to do with a lot of bands not having full horn sections. Where your taking time out of a tune for a horn-head, you’re really composing a full piece… With horn-heads, melodies, you got your chorus, your bridge, this and that and breakdowns, there’s just a lot of different aspects that go into our tunes and our style of music. It’s not your formulaic type of vibe necessarily.
As a follow up to that, “Speak of the Devil” is almost a 7 minute track off “Amplify” and one where Midnite legend Vaughn Benjamin lends his voice. Are there any planned guests or other particular artists you would like to appear on the upcoming album?
We don’t have anybody planned right now, we do have ideas though. Very good friends of ours, The Black Seeds, who we went on tour with in New Zealand and who we also brought back over here to the states, we think there really great and we’d love to get a couple of those cats on. I think the effort has been make I’m not sure if anything has been confirmed. It’s still early enough in the process where I think we can make that happen and work something out. That would be ideal!
I have to ask about the current tour poster artwork, it’s really eye catching and seriously awesome. The badass lion with the third “all-seeing eye”, geometric patterns and great colors -who is the artist, have you worked with them before and is this possibly the new album cover art?
Drew (Sayers, Saxaphone) hooked it up!
Drew: His name is Nate Duval, from the Boston area, he does some work for a band I used to player with called The Superpowers. He used to do great stuff for us then so I said hey man, do our tour poster. This is the first one he did for us. We also have screen printed versions of the tour poster at the merch table too. It was kind of spur of the moment, we put it together and this was the first thing he came up with which is incredible.
Tommy: People are commenting and buying these screen printed versions and it’s one of the best posters for sure, however it’s not going to be the new album cover. It’s the first thing he did for us but I certainly doubt the last, he knocked it out of the park, for real! Historically, I don’t think we’ve put enough effort into stuff like that but it makes a huge difference and tons of people really notice it. We all love it!
Now on tonight’s show, it’s unfortunate The Meditations had to cancel however, Denver dub-trio, Tatanka slid in pretty nicely to fill the bill. They’ve opened for JBB a few times here in Denver, can you tell me about those guys and how your relationship came about and transformed over the years?
I feel like I remember those guys coming to see us at The Gothic (Denver venue), they would come during our sound-check and have us out to there car and play their jams for us. We were like “Cool man, keep it up!” We wanted to give them support, you know? They continued to get it together and their doing there thing now so we’ve known them for a couple years. It’s cool for us because they’ve been listening to JBB for a while and its humbling to know there’s young guys that have really been influenced by our music for so many years. How can you not feel good about that? It’s awesome! Anytime somebody says something like that, whether it’s a musician or a fan that says you helped me through this or this song helped me through another thing, its one of amazing things about this job.
Are there any other artists, up and coming bands that you guys are a fan of that you think deserve attention?
We were actually just talking about this backstage the other night, bands we think everyone who listens to music should know are two we’ve toured with and think are just fantastic. One, who we just mentioned, is the The Black Seeds from New Zealand and the other is Toubab Krewe, out of Ashville, NC. We’ve done a bunch of dates and festivals with them too and they’re so good. It’s this amazing blend of African music and rock music; it’s really intense, super unique and original, it’s very soulful. Their all sick players too, they just have their sound down and it’s really unique and cool. That’s a band you should know about, definitely check them out.
Alright as we wrap this up and you guys get ready for the show, are there any individual or group preshow rituals before hopping on stage?
(Laughing while clutching his right hand with his left and fingers pointed towards Drew on the other side of the green room) Pop pop! We fake shoot each other a lot! I don’t know man; it comes from 15 years on the road. There is a little nihilistic bend to this band (laughing again)! We just hang out, have some beers and get together and go do our thing…
Last question, how does it feel to play music and be a successful touring musician for a career?
Wow! Having a band that’s been putting out consistently good music, I feel, for 15 years I think is success. Being able to come and go different places and play music and hear such nice things that people say about you all over the place, in that sense, it feels awesome! How can it be anything else? We really love spending time together and we really have a blast. The core of this band has been around for 5 years. Bass, drums, guitar, Elliott - its been solid for quite a while now and we love doing what we do. We love the music that we play an that makes it easy. Of course there are challenges keeping an eight piece band together but any time we get on stage, everything else disappears. Any problems or little things that make it difficult, all disappear. To me, its always worth it and it’s the best thing in the world!
That’s all I got, cheers man, I really appreciate it! Much respect to all you guys, I love your tunes and can’t wait for the show tonight! Thanks!
Thanks to Tommy and the whole John Brown’s Body crew for their hospitality, time, insight and always for their incredible music!
John Brown’s Body is:
Elliot Martin - Lead Vocals
Tommy Benedetti - Drums
Nate Edgar - Bass
Mike Keenan - Guitar
Jon "JP" Petronzio - Keys
Scott Flynn – Trombone
Drew Sayers - Saxophone
Sam Dechenne - Trumpet
Kenny Christianson - Sound Engineer
Photo Credit: Jeff Possiel
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